Saturday, July 16, 2011

Carlos Guillen Set to Make His Return

In general this years Tigers team hasn't struggled for offense, they're 5th in the AL in runs scored (8th in MLB) and have averaged 4.46 runs per game. Strong marks. They are however extremely top-heavy with five regulars posting OPS marks of .820 or better - one of just three teams that can make the claim.

The problem, to the extent that there can be a problem with scoring as many runs as the Tigers do, is that they still have a bevy of lineup spots in which they've received essentially zero production. That means that even marginal upgrades to league average-type production at a few of those spots could translate into multiple added wins.

For a team with playoff aspirations, that's a big deal.

At second base the Tigers combined 0.1 WAR is 4th worst in baseball. At third they've gotten -0.1 WAR, sixth worst. In center Austin Jackson has given them about 0.9 WAR, still leaving them sixth worst in the game.

With former MVP Magglio Ordonez beginning to heat up, having hit .302 with a .809 OPS over his last 19 games, the Tigers are hoping that he can provide all the offense with team will need in right, provided he can stay healthy. But that still leaves the three aforementioned positions at which the Tigers would like to improve.

At third, the Tigers are counting on perennial stalwart Brandon Inge to eventually pull himself together, and Jackson is, and will remain the long-term (and short-term) answer in center.

That leaves second base where the Tigers are currently running out the incredibly disappointing Ryan Raburn. After back-to-back seasons in which Raburn posted OPS marks of .891 and .814, I felt that he would be due for a big year if the Tigers could only give him consistent at-bats. Instead he's regressed significantly, turning in the worst performance of his career while seeing his strikeout rate jump through the roof.

On top of it all, Detroit compounded the problem when they gave up on Scott Sizemore far too soon, trading him away for the predictably disappointing David Purcey.

Following the trade, Sizemore has seen some small sample size success, posting a .785 OPS over 110 plate appearances for Oakland while Purcey has posted a 4.76 ERA while allowing opposing batters to hit .292/.410/.446.

The combination of under performance from Raburn and self-inflicted damage from the front office has left the team in a bit of a bind. Enter Carlos Guillen.

Over the past three years Guillen has spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list, largely due to a pair of balky knees that hasn't allowed him to play more than 113 games since 2007, and that number has declined every year since then as he made just 81 appearances in 2009, and 68 last season.

When he has been healthy though, he's remained a productive bat, posting OPS marks of .757 and .746 the last two seasons. That's certainly not a sparkling number, but when compared to the combined .595 mark the Tigers have gotten out of their second basemen this year - it's downright golden.

If he can come back and hit anywhere near as well as he has the past two years and play at least a passable second base, the Tigers could be looking at a player who could provide a full win or more above their current crop of options.

Guillen is set to return on Sunday, and to make room for him the Tigers have optioned Danny Worth back to AAA. In what is shaping up to be a tight four team race for the Central pennant, his presence could make all the difference.

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